I’m sitting on broken pavement in front of an unmarked warehouse tucked away in an industrial park on the outskirts of Orlando, Florida, staring at a big block-letter sign that reads JOHN PYLES TAXIDERMY STUDIO. “He’s been here for 25 years,” says Jason Paul Michaels, custom motorcycle builder and founder and president of Standard Motorcycle Co., a soon-to-launch motorcycle co-op that will be based out of the building next to the taxidermy studio. “I looked out of the office the other day and saw John opening a big, wooden crate. Then all of sudden, a huge lion head falls out onto the ground.”
This strange, hidden sliver of the South will become even more unique when Standard Motorcycle Co. officially opens its doors early next year. It’ll be a one-of-kind motorcyclist haven with membership-based garage access, a full coffee bar, and an outdoor patio where you can grill and drink whiskey. It’ll be something to see, for sure, but I’m here while Standard is still in shambles, looking instead at the bones this communal shop will be built around, and learning about the people behind it.
There’s Will Benedict, a very tall 32-year-old with hair on his face but not his head who does R&D and manages the shop. There’s Leticia Cline, co-founder, model, journalist, and Michaels’ wife, and there’s Michaels, who previously helped launch and still has partial ownership of a motorcycle parts company called Dime City Cycles. There are other mainstay characters—including one-year-old Jack, a huge malamute-timber wolf mix, and 15-year-old Outback, a tired ol’ Blue Tick mutt—but these three, Benedict, Cline, and Michaels, are the driving force behind Standard.
The place—well it’s not much now, but Michaels shares their vision as he walks me through the building. The reception area will function both as a retail space, selling Standard Motorcycle Co. swag, as well as a communal area where people can plug in, do presentations, and work without having to listen to Sheryl Crow’s greatest hits at an overpopulated Starbucks. The room just to the right of the reception area will be the longue and coffee bar, where locally sourced pour-overs and the like will be served. I ask Cline, who is plastering a faux brick wall near the foot of a gorgeous, golden velvet couch, what got these guys going on the idea of starting a co-op. “We were in New Hampshire, five months ago, on top of Pinnacle Mountain,” says Cline. “We were throwing around different ideas for a business. We thought about a parts company, which Jason did with Dime City, but we loved this communal aspect and started talking about a co-op. We just want to ride and support this lifestyle, and this is how we do that.”
I ask Michaels about the name, Standard. “Rockefeller was my inspiration. John D. said that you make something the standard by naming it standard. Therefore, Standard Oil became the standard for oil in America. We’re taking the best bits and pieces of places around the country, putting them in one place, and that’s going to be the standard. That’s going to be Standard Motorcycle Co.”
The workshop is much larger than I’d expected. Off to the left is a small bedroom, where I’ll be sleeping tonight. (Others will be able to do the same once Standard Motorcycle Co. opens; the room will be available for rent via Airbnb.) There’s only one work bay in the shop right now, but Benedict, Cline, and Michaels will be adding five more member-only bays, reserved for guys and gals who want to come in and work on their bikes. Tools and lockers will be free, and other supplies, like oil and brake cleaner, will be available on a donation basis. While membership limits how many people can be working in the shop at one time, Cline says they’ll find ways to appease anyone and everyone who wants to get their hands dirty. “Like have another famous builder, like Roland Sands, come in to teach a class to the public.”
Cline tells me that Sands officiated her and Michaels’ wedding, which is when it dawns on me: These two have been married for only a year, so how the hell are they starting a business together? “It’s been a hard year, man,” says Michaels, and then Cline chimes in, “I wouldn’t suggest it for anyone else. We’re all-or-none people. We had no honeymoon phase. We got married and starting to do this together and it’s been nonstop.”
Cline wishes she could get on her Harley when Benedict, Michaels, and I gear up to go out for a cruise, but she’s way too busy. Benedict is on his 2003 Ducati 620 Sport, which was an appallingly ugly, $2,000 bike before he cut it up, stripped away its fairings, and fitted it with a bunch of handmade pieces and the seat from a brand-new Ducati Scrambler. Michaels is on a matte black 2012 Triumph Scrambler with BMW handlebars, knobby Continental Twinduro tires, a wax canvas seat, and Brooks saddlebags, and I’m on an elegant 2005 Triumph Bonneville. The Bonnie is black with chrome accents and flawless red pinstriping, and it has a suede-and-leather seat, a British Customs exhaust, and upgraded progressive suspension. We go on a raucous ride through downtown Orlando—Benedict goes off-roading on his Duc, I slide sideways through a stoplight on the Bonnie, and Michaels saves a big, wayward turtle from being run over—before I ask Michaels something that’s been itching at me all day: Why?
The idea of a motorcycle co-op is novel and fun, but why shake up your whole life just to give other people a place to work on their motorcycles? “We’re obsessed with people and community, sure, but the real draw for me is selfish,” says Michaels. “Being around a group of people that are constantly inspiring one another. Some builders can sit in their shops, unencumbered by the outside world, and create. I can’t do that. I need to be in an environment with energy flowing. From a creative aspect, I reach my potential when I’m around other people.” Let’s hope, then, that folks get what Standard Motorcycle Co. is going for, that they see the potential and importance of a imaginative space like this, and that they’re not turned off by the big block-letter sign that says JOHN PYLES TAXIDERMY STUDIO.
Photos by Chris Nelson